You Only Get One Chance at a Second Career

If you’ve always known you wanted to be an investment banker, then this post isn’t for you. If, however you started out as a direct contributor to the creation of wealth, saw people with dark suits and perfect hair ride away from your job site in a limo that you have a sneaking suspicion you paid for, and said to yourself “Hey, I can do what they do!” then read on.

The Wall Street Journal debunks the meme that the average American changes careers seven times. Maybe people who cite it aren’t too picky about what constitutes a “career change” as opposed to a “job change” as described by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Still, the meme persists, largely because there’s some grain of truth to it. Maybe seven is too big a number. Even so, America is a land replete with storied self-reinventors, and a lot of them reinvented themselves as investment bankers. Maybe your own job hunt has an element of reinvention to it.

So if you are attempting the leap to Wall Street from Corporate Drive, don’t make any of the five biggest career change mistakes outlined by

  1. Not putting away enough in savings. You may have been told to have two or three months’ living expense money in the bank. If so, you’ve been talking to optimists. Plan for a long winter — six months should just about do it.
  2. Forgetting to draw on previous career strengths. Remember, investment banking isn’t some hermetically sealed career path. Play up your previous industry experience, as well as your subject matter expertise in fields that are as arcane to bankers as derivative valuation is to your old boss.
  3. Neglecting the educational element. You don’t just fall off a turnip truck and land on Wall Street. Get that MBA. Work toward that CFA charter. Get any kind of credential that constitutes table stakes for the position you’re looking for.
  4. Fear of honoring your skills. Go for the dream job, not the safe job. You were probably safe where you were and you were miserable. Combine your passion for success in investment banking with your passion for technology or healthcare or logistics or whatever else makes you tick.
  5. Not finding a mentor or support network. If you didn’t exactly volunteer for a career change — and there are 12 million Americans who have been in that boat since 2007 — then maybe your former employer has set you up with an outplacement service. Use it. Maybe your state or local government has a job search services provider. Don’t turn it down just because it’s geared more toward blue-collar work — free desks, computer workstations, printers, tech support, and job-seeking skills workshops aren’t worthless. They might also direct you toward free or low-cost health insurance while you’re in transition. But more important than all that is to find a support group. If you don’t know where else to start, try There, you can find people in a similar position to yourself within commuting distance. From there, you can get introductions to more senior level people. And here’s the thing about senior people — they like being senior. They don’t want to pull the ladder up after them. They want to be part of the success of others, perhaps more junior than themselves. They feel as much pleasure in the accomplishments of their proteges as you feel gratitude in their helping hand.
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